Monthly Archives: April 2015
Evelyn walked down the stairs. Click, click, click. A sheaf of piano music
tucked under her arm and her normally tidy hair blown across her face by
the wind. So incredibly gorgeous, Benny thought. He pinched himself and
crossed the street.
“Hey Ev, how’d it go?”
“Fine, I think. Good enough. I have four more hours of rehearsal scheduled
in the hall before the recital, and I’ve finally conquered that passage
that was giving me fits. Doc Ecklund’s happy, in any case.”
Dr. Ecklund was dean of the music school, and had taken a particular
interest in Evelyn. Benny wasn’t sure it was altogether professional, but
she was a prodigy, so then again, who knew? In any case, having Doc
Ecklund as your number one critic/fan was not without benefit. Evelyn had
her first choice of rehearsal time on the Steinway in the concert hall
while the rest of the piano majors suffered on their practice room
Prodigy was a word that had been used to describe Benny, too, but never by
Doc Ecklund. And apparently no benefit was conferred to the French
horn-playing boyfriend of his star student. Evelyn alone stood in the
bright light of his favor. Oh well – soon it would no longer matter.
“I brought you some coffee.”
“You are a mind reader, Benny Mack!”
Evelyn and Benny sat on the steps on the bottom of the stairway and Benny
pulled the thermos from his bag. The coffee was hot and black, like Evelyn
liked it. Benny was trying to learn to drink his black, too, and his
stomach revolted a little more each day.
The wind continued to blow and Evelyn wrapped her long fingers around the
small thermos cup. Benny put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her
toward him. She leaned into his chest. She smelled so good, like toast
mixed with daffodils. The heels on her shoes were slightly too high to be
sensible, but made the lines of her calves especially pleasing. Benny
cleared his throat.
“So, I got a letter from Mannes College in the mail today.”
Evelyn sat up.
“Was the envelope thick or thin?”
“Thin…” he couldn’t read her expression, “compared to a dictionary. But
compared to most envelopes…”
“Benny!” she slapped at his arm.
“It’s not a full ride, but pretty close. And no teaching requirement,”
Benny smiled in spite of himself.
“That’s terrific, Benny! Incredible!”
Evelyn seemed like she was genuinely excited for him. She kissed him on
“Congratulations, sir! We need a bottle of champagne or something!”
“What we need is to make some plans!”
Evelyn’s face darkened slightly, or did he imagine it?
“Yes…we should talk about plans. Of course.”
She kissed him again.
“I was thinking, when I move to the City in the fall I’ll just rent a room
somewhere and save money, and then, when you graduate and move down, we
can get something nicer.”
He knew he was making a mistake, saying all of this out loud, but he
wanted it so badly.
“It will be modest, of course, not big enough for kids yet, or anything.”
She smiled, as he knew she would, at the mention of kids.
“I love you very much, Benny Mack.”
His heart began to sink.
“We’ll see. And we’ll talk about it. I know this is an amazing opportunity
for you. And I’m so proud of you!”
“But there’s a lot for me here, at Eastman. I don’t know. Of course Mannes
College is incredible, and living in the City would be wonderful. But Doc
Ecklund has been talking to me about my plans, and he’s such an amazing
support for me.”
She looked down at the not-quite-sensible shoes that Benny found so
“Sure, of course. Nothing’s decided. We’ve got plenty of time. And I need
to find a job for the summer. The Rochester Philharmonic is hiring for
their summer season.”
“Speaking of,” Evelyn fished in her bag, “I also received a letter, today.
Not exciting like yours, but related to a job. My uncle needs some help
with his dental practice starting in June. His dental assistant is
leaving, and, you know, he mostly sees kids – it would be kind of fun. He
knows I’m doing the summer conservatory program, but thought you might be
interested. You probably want to play music this summer, but you’d make
way more money with my uncle…maybe help build a nest egg for that “modest”
apartment in the City you want me to share with you…”
The acid from the black coffee and the thought of spending his summer in a
dentist’s office was making Benny’s stomach churn. A dentist’s office full
of children, no less…he could taste the fear in the back of his throat.
But he focused on Evelyn’s shoes and her comment – no, her promise – about
the apartment in the City.
“Okay, I’ll talk to him.”
“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief. They crouched on the rough wooden planks of a stone walled room on a top floor of an ancient keep. Not all dungeons are in basements. The tall slit window, set deep in a niche with angled sides designed for archers, was too narrow for either of them, gaunt as they were, to fit through. And it was far above jagged boulders piled against the walls. There were the bodies of barbarians down there; some old, some fresh. The old ones, with protruding bones, lay unmourned. The fresh, still bloated, ones were attended by carrion crows.
The joker could observe that spectral tableau as the window was just wide enough to allow his head to pass through. But it was narrow enough to abrade his ears when he retracted it. He kept doing so despite their now scratched and bloody condition because he savored the outside air compared to the fetid atmosphere of their shared quarters.
Also, the section of his vineyard visible on the hill above the ruined village remained intact. He harbored few illusions regarding its long term survival, now that the king was dead, but, damn, for long moments, he almost felt he could flutter up there to usurp his old haunts.
He was a relative newcomer to this cell compared with the thief who wore a thick leather collar tethered by a square linked chain to a spike set in the wall. His right arm ended at his cauterized wrist covered in angry, freshly healed scars.
“This situation is getting way too hairy for me, man. There’s too much confusion. I can’t get no relief. I should have known. Everything was going too fucking well. Businessmen drink my wine at court and I start making serious coin. And you know what else, man? The ploughmen dig my herb. The serfs like getting high. I was growing the best bud in the realm. I spent years developing that strain. That made me quite popular among the rabble, but none of them along the line know what any of it is worth.”
“Then I tell one little joke, the king clutches his arm and dies laughing. Suddenly, I’m the asshole. It’s not my fault he bit the big one and it’s not my fault he left no male heirs. God knows he did enough boinking. I guess all his shots banked left. Now we’re getting invaded every fucking weekend.”
“No reason to get excited,” the thief he kindly spoke.
“You’re pretty sanguine for a guy sporting a brand new stump.”
“Ah, it’s not that big a deal, really.”
“How can you say that, man?”
“Well, I’m a lefty.”
The joker had to laugh. Then he said, “Right on, man. I gotta hand it to you. That’s some cold blooded shit, right there.”
“There are many here among who feel life is but a joke.”
“Life is funny, but it’s not hilarious. It’s kind of a deadly joke.”
“Like the one you told the king?”
“Very funny. We could die right here in this room, man.”
“But you and I we’ve been through that and this is not our fate.”
“You’re pretty optimistic for a guy who’s chained to a wall. What’re you gonna do when those fuckers come back? You know, next time they’ll breach the gate and here you are chained like a dog.”
“It’s no big deal. My old man was a blacksmith.”
“What’s that got to do with it, Jethro?”
“Well, he was a lot better than the drunkard they had here in this pissant little castle.”
“So? What? Are you telling me you can break the chain?”
“Probably not, this one’s old school, but this pin ain’t worth much and they didn’t bother setting it in very deep.”
“Still, I don’t think we can yank it out.”
“I appreciate you saying “we”, but we don’t have to. We can bend it.”
“What good will that do?”
“Bend it back and forth long enough and it’ll break right off.”
“Well, hell, let’s git after it. I get the feeling some shit is fixin’ to happen.”
“I think you’re right about that. So let us not talk falsely now. The hour’s getting late.”
The joker stood up and stretched. He put his face to the window, but not through it. He looked back at the thief and said, “There are some really dark purple clouds blowing in.”
He grabbed onto the spike and began worrying it. The drunken blacksmith must not have been entirely inept because it took a good long time and he had to rest several times and his hands were bloodied before the spike gave it up. When it did, he extended his left hand and pulled the thief to his feet. They both raised their brows and nodded. The thief wrapped the chain around the remains of his right arm, went to the window, and stuck his head out into the fresh air. He looked down at the corpses below and spit.
He pulled his head back and said, “OW!”
Something hit the door. There ensued a protracted series of rattles and clanks from the other side of the metal clad wood. The heavy crossbar clattered unceremoniously to floor and the hinges creaked open revealing a portly woman wearing a dainty gold leaf crown, a finely made soiled dress, and sturdy shoes. She bent over, grabbed three broad swords from the floor at her feet and bellowed, “We’re running low on soldiers and we’re going to need every swinging dick we can muster. Your only chance is to fight with us.”
She tossed a sword at the thief and he snatched it from the air and swung it with a flourish. The one she threw at the joker hit first his chest and then the floor. He said, “I don’t know how to use that.”
The princess bellowed, “Fill your hand, you bastard. We’ll get you an instruction manual. If that doesn’t work you can always tell that joke again. Follow me, dogs.”
She led the way down the dim passage to an arched doorway onto the landing of spiral stairway inside a stone tower. It was dark. The clamor of worried voices and frenzied movement from far below sounded up the stairwell. They climbed. The stairs treads were cupped into concavities where the balls of many generations of feet had worn them down. They passed one small window before they emerged onto the battlements.
A female sentry shouted, “Who’s there?”
“It’s me, dipshit. I brought the prisoners. We need all the help we can get.”
The princess directed them to a watch room and told them to eat. A ladle brought up bones and root vegetables from the bottom of the cauldron. There were no spoons. They also ate coarse bread and hard white cheese while all the women came and went. Barefoot servants too.
They dropped their bowls in a wooden bucket, picked up their swords and walked all along the watchtower. The air felt great to the two men. Some people were busy moving about. Some watched the horizon. Others stared off at points within themselves. On a small round tower, at the highest part of the fortification, the princess kept the view.
The joker said, “Man, I don’t care what happens. I’m glad to get out of that dungeon.”
“Tell me about it. I was in there a lot longer than you, ya whanker.”
“Hey, you’d still be chained to that wall if it weren’t for me.”
“Good point, sorry.”
There were hills behind them and they faced a vast empty plain. The wind seemed to come from several directions and each brought the fragrance of dead things dissolving into the earth. The big dark clouds loomed closer now. Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl.
The joker cocked his and asked, “What was that?”
“Sounded like a mountain lion.”
“Really? I never heard of them being around here before.”
“Civilization collapses and nature makes a comeback.”
“You call what we had here civilization?”
“It’s as close as we’re likely to ever see.”
“I guess you’re right.”
An electric urgency crackled around them and more people materialized and stepped up on the parapets all looking in one direction. Two riders were approaching.
The joker said, “Oh shit, this don’t look good.”
And the wind began to howl.
This is a story about a Mouse by Shanna
Mouse looked out the window. The sun was shining brightly, not a cloud was in sight and the wind was blowing gently.
“Oh boy,” he said. “This is a perfect day to fly my new kite.”
Mouse smiled and was excited as he grabbed his kite from under his bed. “I can’t wait to fly my kite,” he thought. “It’s going to fly so high.”
Soon, Mouse arrived at the park. He saw his friend Dog playing with his Frisbee and Squirrel was running up and down the slide. Blue Jay Bird was seeing how high he could fly on the swings.
Mouse unraveled his kite string. He held his kite up with one hand and started running as fast as he could. The wind lifted his kite into the air. It flew up, up, up into the sky.
Mouse ran from one side of the park to the other, his kite flying above him. “This is so much fun,” he thought. All of a sudden a big gust of wind blew Mouse’s kite right into a tree. It landed in the middle of a large bunch of leaves and branches.
“Oh no,” cried Mouse. “My kite is caught!” Mouse tugged on the kite string but that just tangled up the kite in the leaves more. Mouse’s kite was stuck.
“How am I going to get my kite down,” Mouse wondered. He tried jumping, but the kite was too high in the tree for Mouse to touch. He tried to climb up the tree but the kite was too far out in the leaves and he couldn’t reach it.
Mouse frowned. He needed help.
He called out to Dog. “Dog, can you help me get my kite down?”
Dog ran over to Mouse. “I can help you get your kite down,” he said. “My bark is the best in the neighborhood. I’ll bark your kite down.”
Woof! Woof! The kite wobbled in the tree, but didn’t move.
Mouse called out to Squirrel. “Squirrel, can you help me get my kite down?”
Squirrel scampered over to Mouse and Dog. “I can help,” she said. “I have the best arm in the park. I’ll throw my nuts at your kite and make it fall down.”
Thump, thump. The kite wiggled from the force of the nuts but didn’t move.
Mouse called out to Blue Jay Bird. “Blue Jay Bird, can you help me get my kite down?”
Blue Jay Bird flew over to Mouse, Dog and Squirrel. “I’ve got the strongest beak in the nest,” he said. “I can pull the kite out for you.”
Blue Jay Bird flew up to the kite and grabbed it with his beak. He pulled and pulled but the kite didn’t move.
“What are we going to do,” cried Mouse. “I can’t leave my new kite in the tree.”
“What if we all tried together,” suggested Dog.
“That’s a great idea,” cried Mouse, Squirrel, and Blue Jay Bird.
Mouse gripped the kite string. Dog got ready to bark. Squirrel grabbed a handful of nuts. Blue Jay Bird flew up and grabbed the kite.
“One, two, three,” yelled Mouse. Mouse tugged, Dog barked, Squirrel threw and Blue Jay Bird pulled all at the same time. The kite shifted and suddenly it was loose and fell to the ground.
“We did it,” yelled Dog.
“Thanks for helping me get my kite down,” said Mouse.
“You’re welcome,” said Dog, Squirrel, and Blue Jay Bird.
“Want to fly my kite,” asked Mouse.
Mouse, Dog, Squirrel and Blue Jay Bird had fun the rest of the day flying the kite.
Out of Retirement
By Dalmacia Flemming
Nina sighed heavily as she looked out upon the stacks of shoe boxes and various piles of clothes and other belongings all over her bed and bedroom floor. She was in the midst of “The Big Purge”. What a mess! It was clear she had some hoarding tendencies!
Nina carefully stepped over the piles and made her way to the kitchen. A cup of coffee was required if she was to reach her goal by the end of the day … a clear bed. … Better make that a pot of coffee!
Nina pulled her bed pillow out from under a huge pile, aligned it half way up the wall and half on the floor and made a nice temporary seat on which to sit so that she could enjoy her coffee and ponder her upcoming task. From here she had a clear view of her completely empty walk-in closet! Nina hadn’t seen her closet like this since she moved into her condo about 20 years ago!
Look at all those shoe boxes! Some of them looked pretty old Nina mused. Nina set her cup down and reached over to the top box in one of the piles. She picked it up. The shoe boxes on the bottom of the stack in the closet were now on the top of the stack on the bedroom floor. She sat back down on her pillow-seat. “Capezio” Nina said out loud, reading the label. She opened the box … “My tap shoes!”
There they were … shiny patent leather, 2 inch heels with a single strap, Mary Jane style. And they looked so elegant … still. Nina put them on, stretched her legs straight out in front of her and admired them. Then she stood up … they felt good.
Nina walked out to the hallway; the hardwoods of her bedroom were completely obscured by the contents of her closet.
Let’s see … how about flap ball change, that’s a good beginning step. Nina had “performed” this step and many others a zillion times … from the driver’s seat of her car during her commute to and from work, during work meetings as well. She would envision the steps in her head and then make precise micro movements with her toes inside of her shoes, even while driving. For how many years now? A Lot; Nina had just “retired”.
Nina felt that this process did count as “practicing” to a certain extent; she was always able to tell when she messed up. I guess this would now be the test of her theory.
Flap ball change, flap ball change, flap ball change; Nina continued like this down the hallway. Hey, not too bad. How about a simple time step: step stomp hop step flap, step stomp hop step flap.
Thirty minutes later Nina was executing semi-complicated time steps, not perfectly but not too shabbily either, sweating and panting like a pig.
Nina poured a tall glass of water and sat back down on her pillow-seat in the bedroom to rest. Time to get back to work.
Nina completed her day’s goal by about 11 PM and then flopped immediately into her exposed bed. She dosed off thinking of her last tap performance in Meany Hall Studio Theater during her college days. Who WAS that teacher … she used to dance with the Bill Evans’ Dance company … her name was Pat something … Nina heard that Pat had later become a Rockette … funny … she seemed so un-Rockette at the time…
The next five days Nina spent processing the rest of her piles, painting her closet, donating unwanted stuff and restocking her closet with one third of her previous belongings. All the while her shiny patent leather tap shoes sat on display on her dresser.
With this task now complete, Nina decided it was time to get some serious tap practicing in. She felt invigorated by the combination of owning less stuff; less baggage to weigh her down, plus re-discovering her tap shoes, the hidden jewels that really mattered.
Nina went down to check out the large communal room in her condo building. Great, it had hardwood floors; she thought it did, but hadn’t been down there in a while and had never really paid any attention to the floors. And it was off in the corner of the building so she wouldn’t disturb anyone. Nina signed up for 2 hour blocks every day for the next week. These evenings were spent reviewing You Tube videos of all her favorites: Bojangles, Fred, Ginger, Gene, Donald, Anne, Eleanor …
Nina was amazed at what she accomplished in this first week of practice; the steps, the timing, the pizzazz; it was all still there in her muscle memory. Nina blocked off more time in the communal condo room for the next three weeks. By now, old routines had made their way to the forefront of her mind. Who would have thought that what started out to be a simple cleaning and purging exercise would transfer so wonderfully into other aspects of her life?
One evening while reviewing videos, Nina typed in “Rockettes”. She paused and thought back to that tap teacher of hers from years ago … Pat something …
Nina went to the Rockettes website to see if there might be a history page to look up former dancers. There wasn’t, but there WAS a huge flashing pop up … “Rockettes Audition Tour!” Hmmm … just for laughs … “Requirements”
… all performers must be at least 18 years of age – no problem there.
… must be between 5’6″ and 5’10 ½” tall (measurements will be taken in stocking feet) – I hope I haven’t shrunk!
… committed to diverse casting for all roles – does “old” count?
… must be proficient in tap, jazz and ballet. Pointe work is a plus, but not required, for Female Dancers – YIKES!
… voice quality is not as important as the ability to sing and dance at the same time – hmmm
The audition in Nina’s city was in three weeks. Nina decided to attend.
Nina felt the audition went well, even though she was the oldest one there. She was now dedicated to continue with tap dancing and signed up for a class.
One day after tap class then grocery shopping, Nina hurriedly picked up her mail so that she could eat that fabulous Greek take-out, she was starving! Now satisfied, she began to thumb through the mail. What’s this … from The Rockettes? Nina opened the letter.
Dear Ms. Bailey,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been selected to be employed as a tap dancer in our new production “Tap Dance Though the Decades”…
What?! … Is this some kind of a joke? Nina thought hard … who had she told of this audition? …. She didn’t think she had any friends who would be juvenile or mean enough to fake something like this…a job offer from the friggin’ Rockettes … and at her age … could this really be true?